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 Last update:  5/9/2012       Read more by Thomas Gerbasi         
Antonio Tarver The Last 40-Something Standing
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By Thomas Gerbasi, photo by Hoganphotos

Its been over nine months since his last fight against Danny Green, but Antonio Tarver has never been one to let go of past slights.

I went into the Green fight a 5 to 1 underdog, said an incredulous Tarver, who went to Greens backyard of Australia last July and knocked his foe out in the ninth round. 5 to 1 underdog? The whole country could have come back right (if it would have bet on him).

Then comes the laugh, one like no other in the boxing business. Its probably the best part about talking to the former light heavyweight champion, a genuine and infectious bellow that only comes slightly ahead of the second best part of talking to him: his passion for the game.

Whether you agree with him or not, there is no disputing the fact that Tarver cares. About his craft, his legacy, about anything he puts his hands on and time into. You have to respect that.

The passion never left, said the 43-year old from Tampa, who is currently preparing for his Showtime main event on June 2nd against unbeaten Lateef Kayode. Its always been there. The passion to be champ, the passion to win, the passion to go down in history as one of the great fighters of this era. All that still drives me. Im still winning championships. They want to put me in the same category as a Roy Jones, as a James Toney, and these characters. And its not even the same. I aint seen one of those guys winning a title or come close to winning a title of any sort in years. How can they be calling for me to retire? Are they kidding?

Tarver is one of the last 40-somethings of his era still standing. Fans have been calling for Toney to retire for years. Jones has lost three of his last four, two by knockout. Glen Johnson has dropped three of his last four as well, and Bernard Hopkins recently lost his title to Chad Dawson. Tarver, winner of five of his last seven, with the only losses being back-to-back decision defeats against Dawson, is perhaps just a win over Kayode away from another big fight. And if he fights the way he did against Green, he isnt likely to be a 5 to 1 underdog on the oddsmakers sheets.

And its not that he has been remarkably blessed with a fountain of youth to keep him from the ravages of age, but the facts are there. He did turn pro very late at 28, he has only 35 pro bouts, and he hasnt been in a host of brutal wars.

Ive taken care of myself and I really havent been abused in the ring, he said. Ive never been dominated in a fight. My worst performance was against Hopkins and I dont know what happened that night but something happened and thats it. Other than that, I have the best defense in the business, and Ive stayed 16 years in the pro game and never been cut, never had my nose broken, never been unconscious, and never been dropped where I was hurt to the point that they had to count over me. People dont understand that it takes a gift, it takes a talent to be in the game this long and to have been as successful as I have. I know who I am, and Im a great fighter, whether they ever admit it or not. Ive been doing this since I was 10 years old and Ive been the best on all levels. Its not by accident that Im here. I can fight and I know the game back and forth.

Perhaps most importantly, he also knows that at 43, he cant train like he did when he was a kid.

It takes a little while longer to get into tip top shape and you have to do it smartly and have to do it gradually, he said of life in the 40s. Its not gonna happen overnight, and right now, were just training smarter rather than training harder. Im not beating myself up.

Hes keeping an open mind in the gym as well, with trainers Jimmy Williams and Buddy McGirt both keeping him on his toes with new techniques and strategies and even some old school stuff here and there.

You always can learn, he said. Even if its learning stuff you forgot (Laughs), you never stop learning no matter how long youve been in the game. And I think the key to the longevity is that when you get tired of suffering then you need to hang it up. I still dont mind suffering and I still suffer in the gym in preparation for my fights. I work hard, and the sacrifices I make are still as significant as they were when I started. When that stuff gets tiring and you want to slack off and not do the things that are necessary, then you gotta hang em up.

Tarvers not looking at that option right now though, not with a high-profile headliner against Kayode coming up. On paper, the 29-year old Nigerian has the hunger and style to find out whether 43 is just a number for The Magic Man, but then again, people said that about the Green fight. The way Tarver sees it, 18 pro fights arent nearly enough for Kayode to be ready for what hes bringing to the Home Depot Center next month.

He aint the bully coming into this fight, he said of Kayode. He thinks hes the bully, but I knock bullies out because they dont know how tough I am. You cant take my heart. That aint ever gonna happen. So hes coming in here with a false sense of security, and Im gonna put his ass in check early and often in this fight.

Its vintage Tarver, whose mouth hasnt lost a step at all over the years. Then theres that laugh again, followed by a statement of intent that he will do whatever it takes to stick to. If he succeeds, he may never stop talking.

If they cant beat you, they cant stop you, said Tarver, now fighting at cruiserweight. Im on a mission right now. Im gonna clean up this cruiserweight division, then Im gonna clean up the heavyweight division, and Im bringing the heavyweight title back to America. Thats my quest. What are they gonna do when I win the heavyweight title? What are they gonna say then, when I beat Wladimir Klitschko? He told us so. (Laughs) They can ignore me all they want. Im coming.

In other words, if youre getting on the bandwagon, the time is now, because he wont have any problem turning you away if youre not with him. Its this blunt appraisal of any situation that has garnered him a Twitter following of over 13,000 and counting. And hes enjoying every minute of it as well, begging the question, what would he have done with social media if it were around when he was chasing down his longtime nemesis Jones?

Id be a Twitter phenomenon, he laughs. But with that ship sailed, the rivalry settled, and the two men in distinctly different stages in their careers, Tarver moves on, and hopefully forward. Ne insists that when its time to go, hell go. Maybe not quietly, but hell go. But until then, youre just going to have to deal with him.

When I lose my quest to become heavyweight champion, Im gonna ride off into the sunset, said Tarver. But Im gonna get my shot, trust me. Im gonna do everything I have to do, continue to win, until they cannot deny me. And thats what Im focused on.

Tags: Lateef Kayode , Antonio Tarver , Tarver-Kayode , Tarver vs Kayode


 User Comments and Feedback (must register to comment)

comment by Bushbaby, on 05-09-2012
Kaode or however you spell his name is overrated. Another mediocre from the wild card stable.

comment by richardt, on 05-09-2012
Kayode fights like a robot with a bad way he beats Tarver.

comment by Tobi.G, on 05-09-2012
I hope Kayode beats him.

comment by D4thincarnation, on 05-09-2012
Just read the headline, but that was enough for me. Think the writer has forgot about Vitali, and that may be ok for a poster to make that error on this site, it is inexcusable for someone who is meant to be a professional boxing writer to do.

comment by Camp Beast, on 05-09-2012
[QUOTE=larryx2013]doubt he wants the damn IBO belt only reason he got it from him last time was because he had the ring belt aswell.IBO is worthless imo[/QUOTE] Good point. Well, if Tarver can manage to get the Ring belt (which I doubt), then Hop would take it! ha ha

Post A Comment/View More User Comments (7) 

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